The Minnesota Vikings’ offensive line didn’t have a bad day against the Detroit Lions, it had a Dave Kingman day. Or for you younger readers, a Miguel Sano day. They struck out a few times, but they also hit a couple of home runs that won the game for the Vikings.
When Minnesota released guard Alex Boone prior to the beginning of the season, they did so because Nick Easton was simply a better fit with the identity of the line. The Vikings’ front five is exceptionally mobile – something Boone is not. And offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has used that to his advantage.
Two of the three home runs were created with that mobility. The other with quick feet and a little toughness.
The first came early in the game. The Vikings jumped out to a quick start on Thanksgiving day in part because of a 31-yard reception by Jerick McKinnon, which set up a Case Keenum rushing touchdown to put Minnesota up 14-0 just 11 minutes into the NFC North battle.
Keep an eye on the three interior linemen. Easton (62) starts by giving a little nudge to the nose tackle to help Pat Elflein (65), then the left guard takes hold of Detroit’s linebacker and drives him all the way outside the numbers.
Elflein throws Detroit’s D-lineman to the ground and takes off into space looking for somebody to block. He finds a defensive back rushing across the field and gives him just enough of a push to open up another 10-15 yards for McKinnon. Notice both Elflein and Berger turn themselves 90 degrees once they get into the second level to look for oncoming defenders.
If Easton doesn’t control the linebacker or Elflein doesn’t toss the DT to the ground or make that push, the Vikings end up with a single instead of a home run.
Our second dinger came to open the second half. The Vikings were up 20-10 looking to put the game (nearly) on ice. Opening up with a power run up the middle, right guard Joe Berger (61) seals off the Lions’ defensive tackle, creating the hole for Murray when Elflein drives his man to the left. Easton helps with No. 91, then moves on to the second level, where he takes No. 58.
As the linebacker tries to escape, Easton keeps moving his feet and drives him toward the middle, giving Murray a huge lane. The Vikings’ 6-foot-3, 230-pound running back cruises through an arm tackle for 46 yards.
Since Murray’s run (and eventually 2-yard touchdown) didn’t end the day for Detroit, the Vikings were still looking to their O-line for big plays late in the game. With 4:10 remaining, Shurmur dials up a quick screen to Stefon Diggs. As soon as Keenum gets the snap, Easton takes off flying toward the numbers and tight end Kyle Rudolph gets outside to block the corner. Tackle Riley Reiff executes a cut block, providing Keenum with a clean throwing lane.
Easton demolishes the safety, leaving nobody within miles of Diggs.
While he didn’t make an impact on the play, you’ll notice Elflein is running side by side with Diggs all the way down the field – after tossing the defensive tackle to the ground again.
These three plays illustrate a bigger point about the Vikings’ offensive line: They were never going to be the 1992 Dallas Cowboys (or even the 2016 Dallas Cowboys), but they were built to fit Shurmur’s offensive vision. The sacrifice made is that sometimes powerful interior defensive linemen will overpower them on run plays or collapse the pocket. But it’s an easy choice to give up a little power to create a screen and play-action attack that can open up huge plays like the Vikings had against the Lions.